It felt appropriate that Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” was playing as I drove to my first physical therapy session. After all, most of the pain I’ve been experiencing for the last two months has been “in the back of my Honda,” and I don’t mean my 2014 Accord. I was both excited and a little nervous. While I was ready to put a lot of effort into healing I wondered if I’d have to go through even more pain and discomfort to get there, and I also wondered how much I would have to modify my taekwondo practice.
Short answer…yeah, all of that, kinda. After the thumping beats of the rap song died down I arrived at the sports medicine clinic. I filled out the forms about where it hurts and what makes it feel worse or better and waited for my appointment.
“I’m back!” I cackled, and grabbed my PT Cody* into a back-slapping hug. I first met Cody about eight years ago to treat debilitating anterior hip pain that made sitting, driving, and doing just about anything else extremely painful. Even running was out of the question. He treated me mostly with core strengthening exercises and minor spine and pelvis adjustments, and after that I ran my first half-marathon. I knew if anyone could fix my hip it was Cody.
We were joined in the exam room by a shy PT student who was shadowing Cody for the day. Cody got right down to business and began running his fingers up and down my spine, poking my sacrum, and having me lie on an exam table while he twisted my legs around to check the alignment and see when the impingement was starting to really hurt in the right hip. He hummed the names of the muscles and tendons he was poking as if he were reciting a prayer. Finally he found a spot that was apparently asking for his attention and began to gently massage it and apply pressure.
“I’m going to work on her psoas muscle,” Cody said calmly as he eyed the shy student. “The art of therapy is knowing when to stop and work on something. As a student you might tend to compartmentalize–first take the history, then the objectives…no, there needs to be a flow to it.” He sank his fingers deeper into the side of my hip, which made me wince and inhale sharply. I felt shocked, curious, and disgusted at the same time. When he did a little fishhook move with his finger towards the ilium (that big bone in the front of the pelvis) I felt like he could have disemboweled me.
“Just keep breathing,” Cody said soothingly as he continued to do what I imagine a splenectomy must feel like. Thankfully it was over in a minute or two and he twisted my legs around again. As if by magic the pinching in the front of my hip was less severe.
I ended up on my stomach while Cody continued his lesson.
“See? Here’s the piriformis,” Cody said to the student as he poked the left side of my bottom. (You guys, I was wearing pants, don’t even go there!) “It’s a LOT stronger on this leg, one of the strongest I’ve ever seen. There’s a big difference between the left and the right.” Hmm, interesting. I knew I was getting more junk in my trunk throughout my training, especially in the last few months. Skirts cling tighter in that area, and I’ve started to look like a little T-Rex, but apparently it’s lopsided. Not sure if Sir Mix-A-Lot would approve.
“Wait a minute!” I said, my voice half-muffled by the pillow. “How can that be? I’m so right-leg dominant! I’m right-handed. My kicks are better on the right. I thought I was stronger on my right leg.”
“You KICK a lot with your right leg,” Cody answered, “but you’re standing on your left leg while you’re doing all of that. If you favor kicking on your right then that builds up your standing leg and you have a really strong foundation. Your right leg is a lot weaker, maybe because you’re overcompensating for the long-time hip pain with the left leg, so you have nothing to hold you up when you kick with the left leg.”
“THAT’S why my left leg kicks suck so much…” I mused and rested the side of my face back down on the pillow.Then I twisted my head around to face the student, who by this time looked a little green.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I chirped. “He’s explaining everything, and you’re asking all the questions I don’t know how to ask. We’re learning at the same time!” The student nodded his head politely and looked like he was trying not to think too hard about the fact that for the past twenty minutes he had been staring directly at my derrierre while Cody poked and prodded me.
After doing a few warm up and strengthening exercises I returned to the table where Cody sank his fingers back into my hip flexor.
“Ewww, I feel like your finger is going to go through to the table,” I meweled, trying not to let myself be overcome by nausea or worse, a hysterical fit of laughter if I dared let myself think about how much it tickled.
“It might go through all the way to the floor,” Cody murmured quietly and dug his fingers in even deeper.
I went to sparring class later in the evening and after getting the green light from Grandmaster and my instructor, I hung back. My hip ached with just the fast-paced warmups we did, so I knew I’d better take my doctor’s and therapist’s warnings to take it easy seriously. I focused more on coaching rather than fighting although I did chase around a few kids and them punch me in the stomach. I enjoy coaching and teaching quite a bit, so I was happy to shift gears. It gives me that nurturing fix that I need, plus it helps me improve my own taekwondo skills by giving me a different and more intellectual perspective of the sport.
“You don’t have the body you had at eighteen anymore,” one of the masters teased after class, reminding me that I needed to go slow for a while and care for my injury.
“But in my head I am!” I joked before stumbling out into the darkness.
So that’s how my life will be for the next two months: that balance between staying active and playing it safe. My yoga teacher always says smart yogis modify; they listen carefully to their bodies. I’d like to think that’s what smart black belts do too.